Educators, nonprofit leaders and business officials have joined forces to launch an initiative focused on helping unemployed and underemployed residents get manufacturing jobs in the suburbs.
The Metro West Manufacturing Workforce Collaborative is hoping to train and find jobs for between 100 and 150 people every year.
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It's the brainchild of DuPage United, a civic advocacy group comprised of local clergy and nonprofit representatives.
DuPage United says there are many available well-paying positions in the local advanced manufacturing sector.
Those job openings, however, aren't being filled because manufacturing has become a high-tech industry and applicants don't have the needed skills.
"They (local companies) have got a lot of jobs," said John Hazard, a leader with DuPage United, "but they don't have qualified candidates."
He said some manufacturers can't expand because they don't have enough workers. Meanwhile, he said, more than 9,000 manufacturing jobs must be filled over the next decade in DuPage.
"We need to start getting people trained," Hazard said.
The Metro West Manufacturing Workforce Collaborative plans to make that happen by bringing together the Jane Addams Resource Corp., the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing and a soon-to-formed nonprofit group called Career Connect Metro West.
Career Connect Metro West, which is expected to be in place by June, will recruit and assess candidates for the training.
Jane Addams Resource Corp., which focuses on workforce development, will provide 15 to 20 weeks of manufacturing technology training to each person admitted into the program.
Once someone graduates from the program, the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing will help them find a job.
DuPage United says the effort "promises to be a strong and permanent component in the economic future of the DuPage area."
"Economic development cannot just be recruiting companies from one place to another," said Amy Lawless, lead organizer of DuPage United. "It has to be investing in people for the jobs that exist already.
"Small manufacturing businesses need workers," Lawless added. "And if they're not taking more work because they don't have the employees to fill the orders, that's a huge economic loss."
DuPage County Board members are expected to decide next month whether the county will provide seed money for the initiative.
The plan is to have the first group of 10 to 15 trainees chosen by late summer. Lawless said the first training session will begin in the fall.